Friday, February 25, 2011

Game Preview: Oakland at Southern Utah

Game 31: Oakland (21-9, 16-1) at SUU (11-17, 7-10)
Saturday, February 26, 2011 | 9:30pm EST
Watch: T-Bird Zone ($) | Radio: WDFN (1130 AM)

Oakland wraps up the regular season on Saturday night with a trip to Cedar City, Utah, to take on a surging Southern Utah squad. The Golden Grizzlies are coming off one of their best offensive performances of the year on Thursday night when they scored a whopping 1.402 points per possession. However, the team also allowed UMKC to go for 1.215 points per trip, a season high in conference play. OU's offense continues to be the definition of elite, but it must shore up the defense in order to ensure a win against Southern Utah. The Thunderbirds are 5-2 in the month of February, and the two losses (to UMKC and ORU) came by a combined five points. These fellas are really on a roll and have put their early season struggles behind them.

Lightning Striking At The Right Time
You may remember that Southern Utah started the season by dropping a home game to California Baptist out of the NAIA level of college hoops. The team really struggled throughout the season's first two months, and all the losing served as more reason to be glad that SUU would be leaving The Summit League after next year. Though the T-Birds did get a nice win over North Dakota State in the early portion of league play, they didn't start putting together solid offense with enough defense to win until the last month. For visual proof, see how the team's efficiency margin has trended this year:
The team's efficiency margin is in the negatives for the entirety of conference play, but as the trend line shows, it's been on the up-and-up for the better part of the second-half. Better yet, the team's efficiency margin for the month of February is +0.11. Oakland's over the same span is +0.09. Will Oakland's offensive firepower be enough to take down a vastly improved Thunderbirds team in Cedar City? That's why they play the games, I guess.

Key Personnel Match-Up
Oakland's Frontcourt vs. SUU's Frontcourt
Over the last two years or so SUU coach Roger Reid has recruited a lot of size. In fact, SUU has so much size in its frontcourt that it's fairly comparable to Oakland. The SUU frontline isn't quite as experienced as OU's, but it is surely big enough to compete with the opponents on Saturday night. Mott Hodgson's minutes still vary quite a bit, but the 6-foot-11 sophomore did have a breakout night as recently as a week ago at IUPUI. Matt Massey also has size and versatility, and freshman forward Kyle Davis has been on a tear as of late (13.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game in February league contests). Jackson Stevenett, who checks in at about the same size as OU's Drew Valentine, has also been on a bit of a hot streak lately (double figures in four straight games). Keith Benson, Will Hudson, and Valentine will have their hands full in this one, and depending on how the game is called, Ilija Milutinovic could also be called upon to pitch in.

SUU Player To Watch: Ryan Brimley
Ryan Brimley, or Kenneth Parcell from 30 Rock, is the lone senior on this year's young Southern Utah team. As such, he'll be the only one celebrating Senior Night on Saturday evening. Like a lot of his teammates, Brimley's minutes have fluctuated quite a bit this season as Coach Reid seemingly worked to find the right rotations, and the senior has been rather ineffective during the last two weeks. However, it's Brimley's last game at Centrum so it's likely that the senior will at the very least have the opportunity to impact the game. He's capable of doing so, especially when given the green light to shoot threes, though it is worth noting SUU takes the least amount of three-pointers in the entire nation.

Oakland Player To Watch: Larry Wright
Larry Wright has been playing a lot of minutes in the last two weeks, a move that has chipped away at Drew Valentine's just a bit. Never fear, however, as Wright has been shooting fairly well from the field in that stretch and has been rebounding like it's mid-December. Wright has also stepped up his game on the defensive end of the court, which included a great performance guarding NDSU's Michael Tveidt a few weeks ago that Coach Kampe lauded after the game. If the altitude is not kind to Oakland's scoring threats from deep, the team could use a healthy dose of Wright attacking the basket.

The all-time series between these two schools is split evenly at 13-13, according to Long-time Oakland fans know well of the team's struggles in Cedar City. Last year's seniors didn't pull out a win there until their last season, which means this year's senior class will attempt to win its second game in a row to graduate with a 2-2 record at Centrum.

If you're interested in getting in on the conversation with other Oakland fans before, during, and after the game, we highly suggest checking out the Golden Grizzly Hoops forum.

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